Monthly Archives: May 2016

How to use a tractor

The UK is on a roll. With car sales continuing to rise, car production is hitting new heights, too. British-built models like theNissan Qashqai, Jaguar XF and Range Rover are right at the forefront of a booming automotive business –but cars aren’t our only success story.

What you may not be aware of is that we’re also leading the way when it comes to tractors. The New Holland Agriculture plant in Basildon, Essex, produces hundreds of unique tractors every week for export across the globe, and welcomes 4,000 visitors a year. Customers flock to the site to choose their dream tractor from up to 10,000 configurations. To celebrate the diversity of UK industry – and fulfil a childhood dream – we took up an invitation for Auto Express to visit the Basildon plant and get our hands dirty by helping to build a new tractor, then take a test drive.

The New Holland factory – owned by CNH Industrial, headed by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne – is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, having moved to the 100-acre Essex site way back in 1964.

Since then 1.6 million tractors have rolled off the line, from the early days of Ford ownership, through the nineties when Fiat held a controlling stake, right up to the present day and CNH Industrial’s growth. But what’s the secret of its success? And why have bosses kept faith in the UK through the recession?
Andreas Klauser, CNH Industrial chief operating officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Auto Express: “We have expertise in the plant and in the supply chain around here. We don’t want to move. The great heritage we have here is very important to us. We evolved into New Holland and it is a clearly recognisable tractor brand all across Europe.”

Just as Klauser and CNH need the UK, so the UK needs the company. A staggering 90 per cent of the machines that roll off the line in Basildon are sent around the world, whether that’s to Europe, the US or less mainstream markets such as Paraguay or New Zealand. That makes New Holland one of the top 15 export companies in Britain with its 14 tractor ranges being sold in 120 countries.

Klauser added: “This is a very important company to the UK balance of payments and Basildon is an important global marketplace. It’s part of Basildon – it’s the home of tractors. The big focus is to continue world class manufacture and whatever is needed will be invested.”

Our job for the day was to get involved in six of the production processes up and down the 2km of assembly lines. But first, we had to get dressed for the part, donning a hi-vis jacket and a hat to complement our New Holland overalls and thick boots. And it soon became apparent that we weren’t just here to make up the numbers. In the factory, there’s a constant stream of activity but also a calmness and focus among the workers – this is something CNH Industrial has actively worked on.

Over the past five years, it’s made £15million worth of savings through noise reduction, cleanliness and efficiency. Next, bosses hope to reduce noise further across the whole plant to make it an ear protector-free zone, too.

So what’s it like working in that environment? Where better to start than with the powertrain?

Our first role was to help fit the huge engines to the transmission. These engines, imported from the company’s other sites, range in output from 120bhp through to 270bhp, and we help screw the bolts and driveshaft into position. At the touch of a button they’re sent on their way as driverless flat-bed robots, patrolling the factory floor, come and pick them up.

The next time we see the assembled parts, they’ve been fitted with the suspension and spray painted black. Here the joints are greased and tanks filled with diesel – with three tractors being built at the same time on the moving floor of the production line, it’s difficult to keep up.

We can see how these processes have barely changed over the past five decades, but at our next stop in the factory, it’s clear just how far UK tractor production in the 21st century has come.

The cabs are now fitted with a comfortable seat surrounded by hi-tech gadgets, touchscreen sat-navs and air-conditioning. Our job is to insert the switches into the C-pillars before wiring them up and snapping the C-pillars on to the cab. A clever light system tells you which buttons to fit where as each order rolls along the line.

• Speed limit for lorries to increase

Just across the aisle is the next stop – the quality gate – where we find out if we’ve been doing the job properly. Armed with a tablet linked to the order system, we circle each tractor looking for faults as it rolls past. A computer system logs problems that dealers or owners have found as tractors have been delivered, and these are added to the checks to make sure the same factory mistakes aren’t repeated.

Once the tractors have passed through quality control, the enormous wheels with their chunky tyres are fitted. We’re let loose with a wheel gun and allowed to do our best impression of a Formula One pitstop, only on a slightly larger – and much slower – scale.

How to sell Ferrari

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has announced shock plans to sell off supercar maker, Ferrari, in an attempt to generate revenue for its €48 billion (£38bn) turnaround plan.

A total of 10 per cent of the company will be offered on the stock market, with the remaining 90 per cent going to existing FCA shareholders. The sale of Ferrari will help support the Group’s long-term success, as it focuses on its more mainstream brands such as Fiat, Jeep and Alfa Romeo.

The Board has authorised FCA management to complete the necessary transactions sometime next year. Although it is unconfirmed, the FCA expects the Ferrari shares to be listed in the US and possibly on a European stock exchange.

• Ferrari 458 Italia review

John Elkann, Chairman on FCA, said: “The separation of Ferrari will preserve the cherished Italian heritage and unique position of the Ferrari business and allow FCA shareholders to continue to benefit from the substantial value inherent in this business”

The news comes just weeks after the FCA was floated on the New York Stock Exchange, for the first time since 1998.

FCA CEO, Sergio Marchionne, added: “As we move forward to secure the 2014-2018 Business Plan and work toward maximizing the value of our businesses to our shareholders, it is proper that we pursue separate paths for FCA and Ferrari.

“The Board supports management’s determination that this transaction represents FCA’s best course of action to support the long term success of the Group while at the same time substantially strengthening FCA’s capital base.”

New technology of car gadgets

In-car technology is evolving at a rapid rate as motor manufacturers continue to develop groundbreaking solutions, every one improved on the last, to make drivers’ lives easier.

Leading the way in producing some of the most pioneering in-car technology available is Harman, which has teamed up with theFiat group to provide original equipment for everything from the humble Fiat Panda to the exclusive Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.

We headed to Harman’s new offices, stationed less than a mile away from Fiat’s headquarters in Turin in northern Italy, to find out what this new wave of in-car entertainment promises.

Most of the concepts we saw won’t be available immediately, but should start to be rolled out on production models over the next 10 years. And they won’t be restricted to the Fiat group, as many rival car manufacturers are waiting in the wings with similar concepts to those we tried out.

From advanced smartphone integration to widescreen TVs in autonomous vehicles, here is what the future holds for in-car technology.

Remote firmware updates

Expected: 2016

By equipping a car’s stereo with 3G – the tech most smartphones use – makers can update on-board software remotely. This saves drivers the hassle of updating when new software has been released for troubleshooting, to reconfigure the display or to install fresh sat-nav maps. It’s all done at the driver’s convenience as programmers will send out invites to update, although data files are being kept small to suit 3G’s limited bandwidth capabilities. Faster 4G will surely follow.

Data logging

Expected: 2017

Collecting consumer data is important to the likes of Harman to help improve future hardware. Engineers can collate software crash reports from in-car entertainment systems to prevent them recurring.

• Do black box telematics really work?

Plus, data will even give exact feedback of what consumers are using – not just essential functions, but how often steering wheel controls are used compared to touchscreen controls, for example. Makers can then design new hardware around these usage patterns.

Clari-Fi

Expected: 2015

To fit a lot of music on to a device such as a smartphone, audio files need to be compressed – but this in turn hits sound quality. Clari-Fi rebuilds what’s lost in the compression process and works with all common audio files.

• Meridian sound-system impresses in our long-term Range Rover

It’s not restricted to smartphone music files – it also extends to audio streamed from YouTube, Spotify and other Web-based services. Clari-Fi is an app, and for it to work you’ll need a tiny piece of hardware, fitted to the head unit or to an amplifier.

Front-facing multimedia screens

Expected: 2025

If fully autonomous cars ever become widespread, this futuristic idea could be a reality. In this Rinspeed Tesla Model S, a widescreen TV sits in front of the rear window. With the front-facing screen, you can watch movies, play video games and access content also available to view on the dash display while the car is moving. The two front seats simply spin around so driver and passenger watch the screen as the car takes control.

Tablet-based infotainment system

Expected: 2020

There are already some aftermarket in-car tablet holders, while Tesla has a similar large screen in its Model S, but solutions like this from Harman offer full integration in more mainstream cars. From controlling music and entering sat-nav routes to configuring car settings, it’ll have a key role to play. A tablet could replace gauges like the speedo, while monitors would stop it performing tasks if it knows the driver is busy, such as taking calls.

Oakland infotainment platform

Expected: 2017

Harman’s Oakland infotainment platform aims to achieve seamless integration with phones, cameras, dash instruments etc. The system builds on set-ups like Apple CarPlay to establish a wireless mirror link between smartphone and dash display, so apps like Google Maps can be used to navigate on the go.Meanwhile, front and rear-facing cameras can interact with hi-tech systems such as autobraking and lane-keep assist.

Multi-manufacturer hardware

Expected: Now

The existing range of car entertainment systems made by Harman is found in most new cars within the Fiat group, but the platform and structure are the same – whether it’s in a budget Fiat or top-spec Ferrari. Fiat group brands build over four million cars a year, so using similar parts between models saves costs in the mass-production process. Several rival manufacturers have already copied this, and others are set to follow.

Aha interactive internet services

Expected: Now

Many drivers have used Aha in their car before, but perhaps only to stream digital radio. Yet this Web-based service can do much more, even reading out content from apps that would normallyonly be available via text – from news and E-mails to social media updates. Drivers receiving text messages can use Aha to respond via voice control, plus it partners sat-nav software, so it can find points of interest, such as restaurants or hotels.